Help For Those Stuck On The Tarmac

What's The Deal?

December 27, 2009|By MICHELLE DEAL-ZIMMERMAN | MICHELLE DEAL-ZIMMERMAN,michelle.deal@baltsun.com

There was something in the air last weekend, and it wasn't just flakes of white. As President Barack Obama arrived home from the climate change conference aboard Air Force One, he was met by a serious change of climate in the Mid-Atlantic that prevented his helicopter from taking off and forced him to hit the road.

Travel was pretty much a bust from ground to air. Greyhound, Amtrak, Southwest, AirTran - they all had problems. Hundreds of flights were canceled at BWI Marshall Airport and hundreds more as the storm rolled up the East Coast. The weather shut down BWI for hours and stranded many travelers heading home for the holidays.

Air Jamaica had what I would consider the worst incident: Flight 40 became stuck on the runway and was unable to make it back to the gate. That left 148 passengers sitting on the tarmac at BWI for nearly eight hours.

But in a coincidental bit of timing, the U.S. Department of Transportation on Monday issued new rules that will limit the amount of time airlines can keep passengers waiting on board a delayed flight to three hours. After that, airlines must either get the plane in the air or return to the terminal. Airlines that violate the rules, which go into effect in the spring, could face fines of up to $27,500 per passenger. The limits apply only to domestic flights, so the folks on Air Jamaica would have had little recourse. However, U.S. air carriers operating flights to international destinations must set a time limit in advance.

In a statement, Air Jamaica said "passengers were provided with snacks and beverages during the delay. We certainly apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused our passengers, but safety is our primary concern and the delay was unavoidable due to the severe weather conditions."

The weather wasn't vexing only U.S. American travelers last week, as Europe struggled with heavy snow, flight delays and train malfunctions. The biggest story was the shutdown of Eurostar, the high-speed rail that travels beneath the English Channel and connects London, Brussels and Paris.

Thousands were stranded underground when four of the trains broke down en route to London from Paris on Dec. 19. That led to an investigation and a three-day suspension of service on Eurostar. Thousands of travelers were left in limbo until Tuesday, when service resumed.

Eurostar officials said the problem that snarled the trains' engines was an unusual type of snow: light and fluffy. Really? I guess it's not nice to fool with Mother Nature.

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